Sunday, February 9, 2014

Uncle Sam's Buying: Monuments Men & a Joke About Michelangelo

There is a two-fold reason why Monuments Men was made. I promised to eat my words if I was wrong, and I would eat my words (as you will see me do in the next post on The Lego Movie, because I was wrong about that). The first reason the film was made was to project a different image of socialism onto the American consciousness than that of the historical record, i.e., Hitler, Stalin, 20 million plus dead people, etc.; the second reason has to do with courting Christians and the Catholic Church. Without a doubt, this film is pro-socialist, and it makes surprising reference to two films we reviewed (which we will discuss).
As of opening weekend, The Monuments Men has only a 33% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It's a sure disappointment for a great director like Clooney because Ides Of March was so expertly handled, whereas his latest effort is clumsy and at the beginner level. To sum it up: nothing happens. The group, that you never really get to know as individuals, just go from one place to another, then back again, then, oh, eureka, it's being hidden in tunnels! It not only makes for a boring story, but contributes to the overall socialist agenda of the film: these aren't individuals, these are just soldiers doing what they are told. Why is this so disturbing? Apart from seeing this same line of thesis in World War Z and the other big-opener this weekend The Lego Movie, they juxtapose the "genius of the artist" (a phrase which is never mentioned in the film, but which we justifiably can introduce into the discourse because these are all professional artists/art historians who know about this) against the absent free will and individuality of the "everyman." In other words, the film holds up that these are great works of art being destroyed, but either they were made by geniuses, or they were created by animals (a being with no soul, no resemblance of the Divine); if the beings who created the art (the artist) was just an animal, the works have no value, monetary, historically, culturally, theologically, artistically, because any other animal (human) could make the same thing because there is nothing intrinsically special or unique about anyone. IF, on the other hand, these are works of art worthy to be valued on numerous levels (monetary, cultural, historical, theological) then there is something unique about the ones who made the various pieces, there is something "unique" about being Rembrandt, about being Michelangelo, about being Raphael or Rodin; only Rodin could have made Rodins, and only Raphael could have made Raphaels. The film, in other words, is trying to have it both ways: these are great works of art, but the people who made them are just laborers, proletariats who have no souls and are just animals. Why does this happen? Please read below as to why this film was made. 
The line truly alerting the audience to the Marxist foundation of the film is when Frank Stokes (George Clooney) tells President Roosevelt that the Ghent Altarpiece (1430-32) by Jan van Eyck is the "defining piece of the Catholic Church." Why does this upset me so much? For two reasons: first, it suggests that for the first 1400 years of the Church's existence, it wasn't able to define itself or its theology; secondly, that all the Church does believe can be reduced to these panels of wood and paint.
George Clooney as art professor Frank Stokes, presenting his case to President Roosevelt as to why a special task force should be assembled to track down, return and preserve the art stolen by the Nazis. Pictured in the picture is the bottom portion of the Ghent Altarpiece. A running theme of the film is, should one of the Monuments Men risk their life to save a work of art, or is their life more important? In the scene that opens the film, just before the scene depicted above, priests in Ghent dissemble the altarpiece and pack it up in hopes it will escape the Nazis capturing it. There is a difference in the risk a one of the Monuments Men is willing to take, and the difference the priests are willing to take: to the Monuments Men, the object itself, the material of the painting whereas the priests are willing to risk their lives to preserve the portal to the Mysterious the painting acts as (proof of this position is when, in Brugge, the priests have blocked the entrance to the Church so the Nazis can't enter and steal the art, but some wounded soldiers knock on the door and the priest hesitates, knowing the risk, but he opens the door to them anyway; they enter, reveal themselves to be healthy Germans and proceed to steal the art. The priest knew what the risk was, and he knew the charity he could exercise and show to the wounded was a far greater testimony to the God the altarpiece invokes than the risk of having the painting stolen; in other words, the priest became the altar of sacrifice (sacrificing the painting) the painting calls us to be in imitation of the Lamb it illustrates. The scene is not meant to make the priest look holy and Christ-like, it's meant to make him look foolish and naïve, because the Madonna and Child must now be recovered; if the priest had not been playing the part of the "Good Samaritan," they would not have lost the art. Socialists are materialists because they don't believe in anything that is a higher power than nature (i.e., God) however, knowing the real purpose of art as a tool of instruction to guide you towards something greater and deeper, rather than an end of itself (the value of the material object), we can see that just like the Nazis the film makers are trying desperately to distance themselves from, they put themselves in the exact same boat, with the Soviet Communist "Trophy Hunters" as well.
Such a position simultaneously rids the Church's teaching of the inherent Mystery of the Divine, limits the potential of what art can do and should strive to achieve, as well as placing materialism (the actual material of wood and oil of the painting) above the greater and higher purpose the painting is meant to invoke in the heart and mind of the viewer. Why is this important? Because that is exactly what Hitler did in amassing the art! In trying to distinguish themselves from the Nazi party, these socialist film makers have validated they are every bit as bad because they treat the art exactly as Hitler did: material objects with no meaning, no purpose other than personal ownership (a point we will explore below). The film does this at least three times with the Ghent Altarpiece, the Brugge Madonna by Michelangelo and The Burghers of Calais by Rodin. We will discuss those pieces in the illustration's captions, but for the moment, I would like to turn out attention to one scene of the film further revealing the socialist intent of the film makers.
Altarpieces, such as the Ghent Altarpiece (named after the city of Ghent where it resides, you can click on the image to view a larger image), were popular donations the devout would make to their church during the medieval and Renaissance periods. An artist would be commissioned to provide an altarpiece (resulting in a substantial amount of work for the artist) and the generally illiterate population would thereby have an illustrated example of what the Bible described so not only did they have the Christian instructions of how to live, they also had the edification of the beauty the art provided. Additionally, when there was a particularly famous piece, the town/city might become a place along the pilgrims' way: penitential journeys were popular during the medieval times and Renaissance, not only as a means of doing penance for one's sins, but also as a retreat into the spiritual life away from the incredible hardships of daily life during these times. It was best to go to the Holy Land, but that wasn't possible for many, so instead, there were pilgrim routes established, where a Christian would travel (being protected by the authority of the Church, so any robbers who took advantage of them had the even greater severity added to their sin of molesting a pilgrim) and spend time at various spots, reflecting on their life, hell and heaven; this brought in funds to the local community because of "early tourism." This continues today with students from around the world visiting places where these masterpieces of beauty and theology reside, so they are not only important to the Church and the flock of the faithful, but also to the locals for the business it brings (discussion continued in a caption below). Donors, pilgrims, artists and the illiterate were not the only ones to benefit from major commissions such as this: the clerical and literate classes benefitted, too. Even in the monasteries and, much later, the universities, access to manuscripts--even the Sacred Scriptures--was limited, so it had to be memorized, and the way preachers and scholars memorized the Bible was visual aids, like the painting above.
In this trailer, at 0:07, you see the Madonna panel of the Ghent Altarpiece being turned over. What happens in the film is that the Monuments Men have found the altarpiece, but they are missing that one panel, so they examine the map, desperately trying to find it; Campbell (Bill Murray), drops something on the ground, looks up and realizes the "table" they had been using is actually the missing panel, and we see him flipping it over to reveal the Madonna. Why is this important? It demonstrates that, just like the film makers seeing on the material worth of the art, so did the Nazis who could not distinguish between art work and a table, or art work and firewood (they torch all the art they can't take with them).
At 0:13, Stokes has just entered the Metropolitan Museum of Art where James Granger (Matt Damon) is curator and says, "There's a Michelangelo joke to be made," to which Granger replies, "You're just the man to make it." In the film, the "joke" is never made, it's just left as implied, so what "joke" is Stokes referring to? The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In the brief scene above, the scaffolding--supposedly like the scaffolding Michelangelo used in painting the ceiling--is built from the floor up to the top of the arch Granger restores and Granger lies on his back; what's the problem? What's the joke?
Click on the image to expand. On the left is Michelangelo's illustration of himself, standing on the scaffolding, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; on the right is God the Father in the act of creation which Michelangelo poised the Father as he himself was in the act of creating. Is this arrogance and pride on Michelangelo's behalf? Not at all, rather, it demonstrates that Michelangelo had a humble understanding of what his purpose as an artist is, to recreate as God created, to create in God's image, not Michelangelo's image. As God the Father creates an image of Himself for humans to see that will reflect God in nature and our daily lives, so the artist is meant to also create images that will reflect God and His Divine Mystery. But, one might argue, if it's "mysterious," how can it be reflected or revealed? Someone else once made the comparison to the Library of Congress: you don't have to read all the books to know they are there, and that the answers are there, likewise, God's total Being is there, even though we cannot comprehend His Greatness, even in all of eternity, but that doesn't mean we can't come close to understanding what He wants us to know about Him and that He does reveal Himself at times, and part of the purpose of art is to preserve that knowledge of God (theology) and aide us as individuals to progressing on the path of spiritual enlightenment so that we come closer to knowledge of God and knowledge of our own self (because God reveals a special part of Himself in each and every person, so knowing yourself is also coming to know God). Again, in the scene in the trailer, Stokes sees a guy on scaffolding working on art and compares that to Michelangelo, totally ignoring the reality, and that's how the whole film is and the whole liberal agenda.
The joke is, to me, that the film makers got reality all wrong, as liberals tend to do. Michelangelo's scaffolding was built from the walls out, not from the floor up, and he stood rather than lying down on his back the whole time; why are these details important? Because reality is important, reality reflects God as He sees Himself, so that's why liberals are so quick to dismiss reality, they hate it, and they re-interpret reality to reflect their own self, not God and His Order. Ultimately, the reference alluded to but never built upon probably refers to the health problems Michelangelo experienced as a result of his labor on the ceiling: with the paint constantly dripping in his eyes, he nearly went blind from painting the world's masterpiece. Ironically--the real joke to be made--in giving himself to this work for four years, and so completely in his spirituality, Michelangelo might have lost some of his sight, but he gained that greater, interior vision allowing him to see the real meaning of Scriptures and Holy Wisdom so he could paint the ceiling. To contrast this, the film makers can't even see the historical record, much more the lofty heights of the Divine.
This image sums up the entire purpose of the film: Matt Damon and George Clooney walking around in US uniforms, looking handsome, trying to convince conservatives like myself that they are good Americans who love their country and they hate the Nazis as much as anyone else does and the socialism they advocate has nothing to do with death camps, confiscating belongings or executions of those who don't agree with their politics. In other words, the purpose of Monuments Men is to make the men pushing for socialism in this country seem likeable, trustworthy, intelligent and noble so we will go along with what they want and surrender our rights because, hey, Clooney looks fab in a uniform, so socialism must be a good idea. Yes, they think we are that stupid. The man in the middle is Donald Jeffries, who had a terrible drinking problem and goes after the Brugge Madonna and ends up dying. Every character in a work of art that dies does so because they are all ready dead, there is something about that character which the author/artist deems as unacceptable and so they have to die so the successful resolution can be achieved. Why does Jeffries die? He dies because he didn't take the drink offered to him before going to the Cathedral in Brugge to find the Madonna. Had Jeffries stayed and had that drink, he wouldn't have been there to get shot (after all, he didn't do anything to protect the Madonna, he sat on the floor and fired a shot at a German because the German got close to him, not because he was trying to keep them from taking it). Sure, he quit drinking, which caused him so many troubles, and we see him writing his final letter to his father, but a socialist would argue, if Jeffries hadn't placed so much emphasis upon his parents (his father in particular) Jeffries wouldn't have cared about drinking and would have stayed with the British officers and would have survived the war; the Madonna was taken anyway, and the Monuments Men would have found the Madonna (as we know they did) so Jeffries "sacrifice" was in vain. Had Jeffries not felt any social stigma about drinking--like Granger and Stokes when they go to the bar to drink on Uncle Sam's bill--all would be well. Why does this discussion matter? Because branches of Marxism contend that "Religion is the opium of the people," but we have to remember, what we see on a growing, daily basis, is that "Opium is the religion of the state." Be it marijuana, alcohol, cell phones, birth control, food stamps, healthcare, etc., the state wants you utterly dependent and helpless because that's how it controls you and enforces that you are nothing but an animal, incapable of reform or free will because you do not have a soul.
There is, however, another line within this very same scene that, once again, sticks to socialism like glue: Stokes invites Granger out for a drink and Granger asks if Stokes is buying, to which Stokes replies, "Uncle Sam's buying." Why do I have a problem with this? Socialists expect the government to pay for EVERYTHING. This men are such socialists, they won't even pay for their own alcohol!
The primary objective for making Monuments Men is to eradicate the claim by conservatives--such as myself--that socialism is just like the Nazi party, and the failed communism of the former-Soviet Union, but throughout the film, they prove over and over that they are exactly like the Nazis and the Soviet communists: two films and the "philosophical basis" of the film both demonstrate this.
The view in this image we see is when the piece is closed (something the film never bothers to show us): the top and bottom, four "outer panels" (with Adam on the left, Eve on the right, Angelic choirs and the bottom to outer panels with the gathering faithful) are hinged so they can be folded inwards (towards the image of Christ Enthroned and the Marriage of the Lamb); when folded as such, the back panels then illustrate Mary's Annunciation, as well as portraits of the donors who made the piece possible. Some would say the donors being pictured on the panels makes this a "vanity piece," they never wanted to be forgotten as being rich and among the affluent; such a reading is not only base but ignorant. The donors are depicted with all their earthly shortcomings, the ugliness of their personal sins written in their aging bodies, bulging veins, watery eyes, warts and baldness; this is not a vanity piece, it is a penitent piece, asking people, even today, to pray for their souls and offer Mass for them, that God might have mercy upon their souls so they could advance to Heaven (the donors being on the outside panels symbolizes them being on "the outskirts of heaven" and the saints in the middle--John the Baptist and John the Evangelist--symbolize what the donors, and each one of us, is called to become: saints; the earthly misery of the donors bodies being so obvious is meant to convey the sins upon their souls, while the stone statues of the saints reminds the viewer of Christ's command to be "living stones" alive with the Holy Spirit and solid in their teaching of Jesus Christ; as the donors advance in their spiritual life, they are to become more and more like the saints, the friends of God, and thus advance closer to the Lamb pictured just underneath . I used to be a Protestant, I know most of the Christian brethren reject Purgatory, but these two humble sinners, advanced in age and knowing their time for judgment was coming, wanted to do a deed of good stewardship with the resources God had blessed them with and earn the prayers and aid of their fellow Christians with prayers and penance they would not be able to achieve themselves (this is thoroughly covered in Dante's Purgatorio, and is a much more in-depth discussion than we can cover here). The purpose of the Annunciation being in the upper panel is to remind people that they, too, are called to say "yes" to God just as the Virgin Mary did. When I was still a Protestant, I wasn't able to enter into the mystery of Mary's "yes," her fiat, because in my immaturity, I only saw that Mary was going to get to be the Mother of the Messiah, so of course she was going to say yes; Catholics, on the other hand, understand that Mary understood the Messiah was coming, not to be crowned and glorified, but to suffer, and that in saying yes to God, she not only agreed to allow her only Son to suffer, but agreed to suffer with Him, that is why, in Annunciation scenes, Mary is always seen with a book, it's the Scriptures, which she read with deep wisdom so she knew what was being prophesied about His Coming and she entered into it with Him. The donors, then, are offering the Ghent Altarpiece as their own yes to God, because it would have been exceedingly expensive during this time, but also to make of themselves humble examples of the spiritual life and the need for salvation.
The first film to be invoked is Steven Spielberg's War Horse (2011). Garfield (John Goodman) and Clermont (Jean Dujardin) stop as Clermont gets out of their jeep and goes to look at a beautiful horse in a pasture and he comments that the horse is a runner; why? That's what Joey the Thoroughbred was in War Horse, the thesis of that film being, it doesn't matter what your talent or skill is, you have to work at menial, physical labor like everyone else. Even though Joey was bred to run, he has to plow a field, and this is exemplary in Spielberg's eyes because socialists adhere to the doctrine of mediocrity (which we also see in The Lego Movie with the Master Builders being undermined). Clermont then receives wounds from which he dies; why? Because he believed in excellence and being the best, so he has to die because there is no room for him in the new world order that is coming.
According to the film, the only reason Michelangelo's Madonna and Child (1504) is important is because it was the only work of the artist's to leave Italy during his lifetime... gee, thanks guys. The reason Michelangelo's work is so important is not just because of his mastery of technical skill (which makes him the greatest artist in history, IMHO) but his understanding of the theology and philosophy of Christ and ability to translate that into art, into tangible forms that anyone could understand, infusing his works with beauty, dignity and part of the Divine to be revealed to all who see Michelangelo's works. In this particular piece, which was the first of its kind in 1504 (we just don't have the time to delve into it here, sorry) we see Mary, the Mother Enthroned, with her Divine Son, the Messiah, Jesus. Why is the Infant naked? This was a hotly contested item during Michelangelo's life, a time when atheism became popular and those who didn't completely fall away from the Faith still tested Christ's Incarnation. When Michelangelo shows Christ--whether as Infant or Judge on the wall of the Sistine Chapel--he shows Christ naked to remind us that God became Man, true God and true Man, He felt and suffered as we ourselves, and that is why He is a Worthy and Just Judge, He has been through and suffered all we do and will. The abundance of hair upon the Infant's Head denotes the advanced wisdom and intellect of the Christ Child (hair symbolizes our thoughts and what kind of thoughts we have, so that a child so young would have so much hair makes us realize how Divinely endowed the Child was so He could fulfill all that was expected of Him). The Virgin and Infant are upon a rock, because we are called to be the "living stones" of Christ's teaching, and they first (literally) embodied that teaching. The Divine Hand holding His mother's is a sign of the intimacy and tenderness the two of them share because only Mary knew what the Son of God did and would endure, and how cruelly He would be rejected, and her own suffering can be seen in the square scapular just below Mary's neck, and, with the folds of her gown coming down, it forms a Cross over her heart, reminding the viewer that Mary choose, in her devotion and love of God, to suffer with Christ as fully as she could during His Sorrowful Passion. I am barely scrapping the surface of the theological importance of this piece, but I hope I have conveyed that there are far more reasons why it's important than that it was the only piece to leave Italy during Michelangelo's lifetime, and that the makers of this film obviously have no care for the higher or greater meanings that don't serve their own ends.
The second film invoked is Cowboys and Aliens (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, also from 2011). In this film, there was a question of who the aliens symbolize (please see Cowboys and Aliens: the US-British Alliance for more). When Jake (Craig) walks into the control center of the aliens space ship, he sees teeth with gold fillings; Granger picks up a handful of gold fillings in Monuments Men, acknowledging that the Nazis confiscated the teeth of the Jews for the gold. Why is this important? Cowboys and Aliens was warning about the on-coming socialist threat from liberals like Clooney, Damon, Goodman, Murray and the rest of left-wing Hollywood; Monuments Men conceding how the Nazis extracted the gold from human beings, is reflected in the way the film extracts the monetary value of the paintings, disregarding the "life" of higher purpose and instruction art offers because just as the Nazis denied that the Jews were even human, so the makers of Monuments Men deny that art invokes any Higher Being (God; please see the commentary in the image below for further elaboration).
The group arrives at a castle where they have been told they can find a lot of the work from Paris, and when one of them looks over a rail, he sees a work that every single person in the art world knows, The Burghers of Calais, made in honor of the six leaders of Calais who sacrificed themselves to Edward III so he would spare the city death and destruction. When one of the Monuments Men sees the sculpture, he merely says, "A Rodin," a moves on. Why? These are leaders sacrificing their lives for the people, and that's NOT how socialism works, is it? When does Kim Jon II of North Korea ever suffer for his people? When did Hitler suffers for the Germans? When did Stalin suffer for the Soviet Union, or Castro for Cuba, Mao for China, Pol Pott or any of his party for Vietnam? No, they make the people suffer for them, just like Michelle Obama asking people to give up their wedding money to send into Barack for his campaign, or give up their pizza night to send him money, (Navy Seal Team 6 killed Bin Laden but Obama took full credit for it) but she's spent well over $10 million in vacations, and he has played far more golf than meetings with the job council. Socialists MUST do away with religion to make themselves god so they can demand people suffer for them, rather than suffer for Jesus. In placing The Burghers of Calais in the film, the film makers made the terrible mistake of revealing their own lack of understanding of how art communicates to people, how it reminds us of what good leaders are--those who suffer for their people rather than demanding that the people suffer for them--because all of socialist thought, again, hinges upon people not having souls or free will.  AGAIN, when one of the Monuments Men sees this sculpture, and all he says is, it's "A RODIN," it substantiates what I have written: socialists (these filmmakers in particular) deny any higher meaning associated with art and only value the  material presence of the piece, just like the Nazis accumulating the art for the material value, not the spiritual or human value, so this piece, too, demonstrates how the film makers--while trying to distance themselves from the Nazis--prove they are every bit as bad.
Two last important issues. First, in his closing thoughts, Stokes contends that art is too great to belong to any one person, as Hitler tried to make all the world's masterpieces belong to him. Why bring this up? Because it's an argument for seizure and redistribution, just like what the Nazis did to the Jews and Catholics and all their opponents. Hitler didn't claim the art belonged to him, Hitler wanted it for the great German National Workers Art Museum (or something like that) and they show the museum in the film. Socialists don't want people, like the donors of the Ghent Altarpiece, to own the art work (which they didn't, they gave it to the Church). But the Rothschild family is mentioned, their name is on the back of two art works (a Renoir and Cezanne) found in a German's home so they know these aren't "copies," they are originals. Do private individuals have the right to own art work? Absolutely, and we can even say, private individuals have an obligation to amass artwork because museums can't hold it all, individuals can commission works of art museums can't/won't, and museums will often only invest in artists who are "proven" masters, whereas individuals can invest in anyone's art they like, such as Albert C. Barnes, Herb and Dorothy Vogel, the Borgias, Peggy Guggenheim, the Vanderbilts, J. Paul Getty, the Koch family, the Medici, Andrew Carnegie and, even the villain of villains, the Catholic Church.  Stokes' argument that art is for all the world to own is valid, but only on the most shallow level, which is not what he intended to argue, but that all art should be on permanent, public display, just like what Hitler wanted.
Grange (Damon) portrays the curator of the medieval collection at the Met. Why? Of all the positions he could hold, why that? Because socialists, under the deceptive name "progressives," want to go back to the Middle Ages, just like what we saw in Jack the Giant Slayer. Just like in feudal Europe where people were tied to the land and had no income or independence of their own, so that's what progressives want, because all of us little people, like myself, would then be enslaved to serving the party members, just like the Chinese and North Korean systems. The painting, a common one, Grange looks at in this image was stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family, so the address is written on the back, so he returns it to the apartment and hangs it back on the wall, but the family is gone, and he doesn't care about that, what is happening to the people NEVER enters the heads of any of these characters, all they care about are the material works.
This is my last argument: when the film first opens, what do we see? The Face of Jesus as depicted in the Ghent Altarpiece. Why? Besides being a vehicle for socialism, The Monuments Men wants to convince Catholics that socialism is really what Catholics should want. This article, posted today, 12 Awesome Radical Catholic Ideas by Nathan Schneider, could have been written by Marx himself.  Like The Conjuring--the small-budget horror film released summer 2013, that did so well at the box office--there is a calling for the Catholic Church to not be Catholic anymore, to--instead--be a branch of the government that deals with the poor, makes people feel good and instructs them to obey the government. Schenider's article, like the article in Rolling Stones calling for "social change," wants the Church to become a servant of THIS WORLD, the EXACT SAME WAY THAT JUDAS WANTED JESUS TO BE A SOCIAL/POLITICAL FIGURE rather than a spiritual Messiah. People like Schneider and the film makers see this world as the primary world, the end-all-be-all of existence, instead of seeing heaven as our destination and this world as the means to ready us for eternity. The Monuments Men has the Catholic Church in nearly every scene, but it's an institution, a group of people who collectively own some great art, nothing else, and therein lies one of the many signs of the dangerous times in which we live.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner